EXPLORING YOUR BACKYARD
When an opportunity presents itself to ride bikes, I have a really hard time saying “No.” Add to that opportunity words like adventure, exploration, nature, friends, and (without even knowing the plan) of course my answer is an absolute “Yes!” I was invited to join the Sportful Squadra Avventura crew for a bit of desert exploration, and as we began discussing potential routes and the outline of our ride, my excitement began to grow just as fast.
Being a “roadie,” I have spent my fair share of time on Arizona’s smooth roads, but now I was getting to venture out on its gravel roads. I was excited to expand my playground and see what else this desert had in store for riding.
I spend my winters in Arizona to escape the cold (Canadian) winters and long/redundant rides on the trainer. I opt for the more favourable riding conditions the desest offers. Arizona is well known for its desert climate; dry heat and sunny skies. Well, today was one of the rare occasions that Arizona showed us it was also capable of displaying Canadian weather!
On wet (and cold) days like today, I remind myself that rain is a good thing (the desert did indeed need it) and I embrace the temperatures for what they are. Regardless of what Mother Nature had in store for us, we were getting to spend the day riding bikes and that was enough to put a smile on our faces (maybe not Remi's yet, as evident in the photo below)!
IT MAY BE A DRY HEAT BUT THE RAIN IS STILL WET
We set out on our ride in the pouring rain and within 60 seconds of us clipping in, we were already completely soaked. The jokes and laughter began immediately as Sally and I listened to Remi’s remarks (complaints?) about the “dry” Arizona weather for which he had left Idaho. The day was already proving to be adventurous and, most importantly, one that was going to be filled with good spirits and lots of laughter (my favourite!).
Descending into Tonto National forest brought familiar sights to me. I ride these winding (paved) roads almost daily and they are some of my favourite. Typically when I get to the sign that reads “Pavement Ends,” this sign directly translates to “Turn around.” As we headed towards Horseshoe Dam I was giggling with excitement in anticipation of finally getting to continue past this sign and seeing where that dirt road led.
CUE THE KNOBBY TIRES
I’ve done a bit of mountain biking and gravel riding but the majority of my time is spent on skinny tires and smooth roads. As we rolled onto the gravel (err mud) I was quickly reminded as to why I love being on 2 wheels; to put it simply, bikes are just so much FUN! Allowing the bike to do what it is meant to do, feeling it move around, and seeing what it is capable of are all aspects of the joys of the sport. One thing I knew for certain about these gravel bikes was that they wanted to play and we (riders) were keen to jump right in and have fun.
We stopped before reaching the dam to shed some of our wet layers and have a snack break. We devoured peanut butter and jam sandwiches and Remi’s pale Idaho skin began to look a little more tanned as his skin turned orange from the Cheetos he was pouring into his mouth. Sally and I shared what knowledge we knew about the Sonoran desert.
We couldn’t help but exaggerate on all of the facts. We spoke of the “jumping cholla” that can lunge itself meters to embed its spines into your leg. As the story continued, the jumping cholla then became termed “sprinting cholla” that would attack from miles away. *Side note: It is a myth that they “jump.” Also, in case any one reading this gets the opportunity to ride bikes with Sally (which I hope you do!) please note that 5 miles is equivalent to 1 “Sally mile.” Your rides will ALWAYS be longer than what she tells you.
THE DESERT WILD
While playing in puddles and descending down washboard gravel roads, I couldn’t help but notice how compulsively drawn I am to immersing myself in the great outdoors. Being in nature brings me happiness like no other. The bike has become such an integral tool for me to further immerse myself into this happiness. When my soul is filled with happiness it magnifies the beauty that already surrounds me.
The clouds were starting to lift and we could begin to see the mountain ranges of the Sonoran desert. The pure, rugged beauty of these mountains was definitely magnified. The sun was beginning to peek through and I could see its rays catching the spines of the cacti. When the light hits these plants, their spines radiate colours of yellowish-green, making them look almost velvety in appearance (but don’t be fooled by that appearance!).
SAVOUR THE SOLITUDE
One of the best parts about riding on gravel roads is the peace and quiet of your surroundings. Being out on these roads allowed me to really savour the moment without being too concerned about cars or other urban obstacles. I breathed it all in and was in complete awe of this incredible experience. Moments like that should be savoured and I was sure to be doing just that.
THE DAMN DAM
When we first got to the dam, it wasn’t what I was expecting to see. The water was turned off and instead of seeing water gushing over it, we saw only concrete…damn. I have seen many pictures of cyclists riding through the tunnel beneath the dam as the water flows over, and I had been looking forward to getting to do that myself.
But the dam did not disappoint! We approached the gentleman who was in charge of the dam and asked if we could ride along the top section (where the water typically pours over), and to our surprise, he said yes. A giant jungle gym of concrete was now added to our playground. We rode around like circus clowns as we grinned from ear to ear on how cool this experience was!
FINAL CLIMB FOR FINAL THOUGHTS
As we began our final (long) climb of the day, I was quickly reminded of the difference between climbing on gravel vs climbing on pavement. Feeling the loose gravel beneath me, I stayed seated to maintain traction and kept my sight on finding the smoothest line. I settled in to a tempo pace, my legs turning in a smooth and rhythmic pattern. While we had spent the majority of our ride engaged in wonderful conversation and laughter, we now found ourselves riding in silence. We had all settled in to our own steady groove. I could feel the days work in my legs and took the moment to silently thank myself for taking such good care of my body. Because of my overall health and fitness, I am able to participate in rides like this. The phrase “Health is Wealth” certainly rang true.
I was aware of the accomplishment I was feeling, which I think is an integral key to overall well-being. We had set out for an adventure and that is exactly what we had achieved. We took a day that was given to us with rain and dark skies and turned it into a day that radiated pure joy and bright light. While cycling can leave you feeling depleted and exhausted, it also has the ability to leave you feeling rejuvenated and restored. When I end my ride feeling a balance between both of these spectrums, I know I have done it right. I knew that today was done right. My heart was full of gratitude for the day spent with friends, exploring new places, tapping in to physical and mental strengths and soaking in the beauty that Arizona’s gravel roads have to offer.
As I saw my reflection in the mirror post-ride, I noticed my face was covered in dirt. What stood out to me the most was the dirt that had dried within my laugh lines. There had been a permanent smile on my face all day and the dirt lines were proof. The mud facial I had received began to crack as my smile got even bigger, and I relished in the fact that although today's ride was over, we still had another one ahead of us tomorrow.